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Problem-Solving Conversations – Drop the Advice and Help People Think for Themselves

Facilitating people to come up with their own solutions rather than telling them what to do is probably the number one challenge most participants in Mediation training courses identify. The skill or rather combination of micro-skills encompassed in an ‘Ask and Listen’ rather than ‘Tell and Sell’ approach to problem-solving are also essential competencies in […]

Managing a Crisis? 3 First Aid Tips for ‘Difficult Conversations’

Even when your organisation is in crisis mode you still need to hold people accountable. Yet raising ‘difficult’ issues -performance, behaviour, or any unmet expectations – is hard to do properly when the stakes are high and everyone is running on adrenalin. So how can you manage those ‘difficult conversations’ in a time-strapped, pressure cooker […]

Framing What You Need To Say In A ‘Difficult Conversation’ – Free Template

Download Word Doc version of ‘Framing Your Key Messages‘ Download a completed template ‘Framing Your Key Messages in Addressing an Issue‘  in relation to addressing lateness. (This is an example of how you might use the template , it is not a prescription or recommendation. Your context, situation and way of expressing yourself might be completely different.) […]

Difficulties In Working Relationships: Understand And Reverse The Negative Cycle

When we find ourselves becoming increasingly annoyed, upset or fearful around someone’s behaviour and attitude over an extended period of time, here’s what tends to happen for many people: We start to have increasingly negative thoughts about that person/persons which in turn causes us to experience a greater level of unpleasant emotions such as anger, […]

Don’t Play Chinese Whispers In Difficult Conversations!

“I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” (Alan Greenspan, American Economist)  It’s so easy to mishear and misunderstand what others are saying to us and vice verse, particularly when tensions are starting to rise. Here’s a simple […]

Trying To Manage A ‘Difficult’ Person: Are They Taking Too Much Space In Your Head?

Does a person on your team sap everyone’s energy? Do you find yourself putting too much time and attention as a manager on their behaviours? Are you constantly listening to grumblings from others about them? When people come for coaching in these situations, they are usually looking for a list of strategies. How can they […]

Replaying A ‘Difficult Conversation’ In Bed At Night? Learn Why We Do It And How To Stop

What a peaceful, pastoral scene, a cow contemplatively chewing on its cud. Grass is high in roughage and hard to digest. Nature has given some mammals the capacity to regurgitate the cud. By chewing it over and over, it yields more nutrients and benefits. We aren’t cows but we too get into cud-chewing behaviour. Have […]

Going Around In Circles In A Conversation? Circular Arguing And How To Break That Cycle

A common question in ‘Difficult Conversations for Managers’ workshops is what to do when it feels like you are in one of those fruitless dialogues, a circular argument, repeating the same thing without achieving anything.The other person isn’t listening or taking on board what you need them to hear or understand. A recent example was […]

How To Be More Resilient In ‘Difficult Conversations’

In my ‘Difficult Conversations’ workshops, ‘being more resilient’ is one of the most common objectives people have. ‘How can I build better coping skills?’ ‘How do I stop myself from going over and over the situation in my head’. Does this sound like you? The dictionary defines resilience as the ‘capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’ […]

The Number One Temptation In The ‘Mediator Role’ And Six Reasons Why Not To Succumb!

There you are, calm, level headed, objective. You’ve helpfully offered to mediate between two employees who’ve clashed. They are at the initial ‘story telling’ stage and you sit composed, with your impartial and non-judgmental hat on. You are patient, attentive, doing the rapport thing… nodding, kindly eye contact, open body posture and empathic ‘hmms’ at […]

Do You Get Caught In The ‘Yes…But…’ Trap? Getting Your Point Across In Difficult Conversations

Think about the last ‘difficult’ conversation you had to have with someone. Did you find yourself using some version of the phrase ‘Yes…but…’? You were trying to get your point across but they didn’t seem to be listening. Despite all your attempts to clarify where you were coming from in a reasonable and rational way, […]

Relationships That Endlessly Frustrate: Can The Dynamic Be Changed?

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ~ Anaïs Nin The above quote neatly captures the psychological phenomenon, that while there is a factual and concrete reality out there, none of us have a truly objective view. There can be many different perceptions of the same situation. As an […]

Frustrated Trying To Deal With Difficult Behaviour? Try These 3 Simple Shifts

Frustrated trying to deal with difficult behaviour? Imagine you had a magic weather wand. A simple wave and you would have glorious sunshine, a gentle breeze with a cloudless blue sky above. With your magic wand you would lighten people’s moods, you’d lift people’s energy and motivation. In one swoosh, you could banish the grey […]

Are You In ‘Parent’, ‘Child’ Or ‘Adult’ Mode (Or All 3!) At Work?

“But what if you needed to give her a telling off…” This was the comment of a participant in a recent ‘Difficult Conversations’ training session with a group of managers. The discussion was around the room layout and whether the manager should sit behind a desk or not, when giving negative feedback to an employee. […]

Do I Have To Say ‘NO’ When Managing Conflict?

When invited to outline their key challenges in ‘Difficult Conversations’ / ‘Managing Conflict’ courses, being able to say ‘no’ effectively to a request or a demand is high on most participants wish lists. Delving a little deeper, concerns that emerge around turning someone down or setting a boundary on an aspect of their behaviour or […]

How High Is Your Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

Internationally renowned neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, tells the story of one patient known as Elliot. He was a successful manager in a large corporation, married with a family. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor which was successfully removed with surgery. However, afterwards he was a completely changed man. His ability to make decisions was […]

How To Improve Perspective-Taking In Negotiations Or Difficult Conversations

Here’s a question: what key skill will improve the outcomes of all types of negotiation whether you are buying a car or trying to sort a contentious issue at work? You might think it’s getting all your arguments clear and well-rehearsed and then sticking hard by them. Yes, it’s good to be clear on your […]

Don’t Battle Over Positions, Get To The Heart Of What’s At Stake – Real Needs And Interests!

One of the most useful models with which to view and work with any kind of negotiation or potential conflict situation is the ‘Positions-Interests/Needs’ Iceberg. Being able to facilitate people instead to identify and articulate what their underlying needs and interests is an essential tool in a conflict resolving toolkit. Positions vs. Interests – An […]

How Conflict Competent Are Staff In Your Organisation?

When I ask people in training courses and workshops to cite some images or associations they have with the concept of ‘conflict’, I usually get a whole list of negatives (angry, war, hate, stress…) and very few positives. ‘I don’t like conflict’ is a common refrain, so I do my best to avoid it’. Yet […]

Managing ‘Difficult’ Behaviour – Are You Walking On Eggshells?

‘All those ideas around conflict resolution are really great, Mary, but what about ‘difficult behaviour’ – someone who just won’t sit down and talk things through in a reasonable way… how are you supposed to deal with them?’ This was the comment of a client in a recent team conflict case. She described herself as […]

Mediating Workplace Conflict – Staying Fair And Impartial

A question I am frequently asked in training people in mediation and conflict resolution skills is the challenge as a third party mediator/facilitator to remain neutral and impartial. This tends to get challenged on two fronts. There is neutrality to the parties and the issues they bring – not getting drawn into viewing one side […]

Bullying And Harassment – Informal Support From Contact Persons

Bullying and harassment in the workplace continue to be one of the most challenging forms of interpersonal difficulties that arise in the workplace. As part of an organisation’s bullying prevention policy, the Health and Safety Authority Code of Practice (2007) in Ireland recommends that employers should name a ‘Contact Person’, whose role is to ‘listen […]

How To Handle Disagreement On Goals During A Performance Review

You probably have recently completed a performance review with all your team members, or maybe it’s still on your ToDo list. Either way, the task of planning work for the coming year is now on the horizon. So how do you have a discussion with the employee where you are anticipating they might be resistant […]

Constructive Conflict: Are You An ‘I’ Statement Or A ‘You’ Statement Person?

To what extent do you engage in constructive conflict? Think about the last time you got annoyed or frustrated with someone… What are the odds that silently or perhaps even aloud, your response was to along the lines of ‘You are unreliable’ or ‘You shouldn’t do x’ . So often when we are annoyed or […]

Resolve Difficult Conversation With The Indian Talking Stick

One of the tools use to help people effectively negotiate a difficult conversation is known as the Indian Talking Stick. Stephen Covey describes the Indian Talking stick as one of the most powerful communication tools he has used. Stemming from American Indian culture it has been used for centuries to build understanding and resolve differences respectfully […]

Conversation Gets A Bit Rocky? Switch To A ‘Meta’-Conversation

How often have you been in what starts as a fairly innocuous discussion or conversation but then find a divergence of views begins to send things down a rockier path? What you had expected to be a routine or even casual discussion moves slowly but steadily to a mini-debate and then progresses towards an argument. […]

How To Manage High Conflict People

Last month, I wrote about dealing with what is termed ‘high conflict’ behaviours and outlined some of the theory that might underpin such behaviour. So here are some concrete approaches to managing such situations. Tips for dealing with high conflict people 1. Don’t take the bait The number one ‘rule’ as it were in dealing […]

Improve Your Relationships, Health And Wellbeing With Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness or mindful awareness is about becoming aware by intentional focussing of your attention, on what you are experiencing – your thoughts, feelings, sensations – in any particular ‘present’ moment. There are a huge variety of practices from formal meditation, yoga, Tai chi or simply 10 minutes of breath awareness every morning. In this article […]

Setting Up An Internal Mediation Programme

A previous post focused on how organisations can make the benefits of mediation more available and accessible by establishing an internal panel of mediators. Key considerations for internal mediation 1. Initial needs assessment Carrying out a conflict audit of the organisation in order to assess how conflict currently impacts people, productivity and profits. This gives […]

Making Mediation More Available In Your Organisation

  There are numerous statistics on the high costs of workplace conflict to organisations, due in no small part to the significant costs of what one could term ‘formal’ interventions being used. By this, we mean rights-based interventions such as investigations and other litigious processes such as the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Tackling workplace conflict In […]

Is Mediation Right For You? Take This Short Quiz to Find Out…

We’v had a few mediation cases recently that didn’t reach agreement. In trying to analyse what ‘went wrong’, as it were, one conclusion I came to is that the parties weren’t really on board for mediation. They were on board yes, to have a dialogue with the other person with me present but really they […]

Is There A Need For Some Self-Reflection Before Mediation?

While we have no solid research to support this assertion, our experience over the last six years seems to show a positive correlation between a person’s ability or interest in self-reflection and better outcomes for the conflict situation they are involved in. An obvious indicator of a person having taken time to reflect on themselves […]

Whose Fault Is It That I’m Feeling Like This?

I heard a statistic recently that that over 90% of our current reaction to a situation has got very little to do with that situation. Now there’s a statistic that one can easily get very defensive about: “Are you saying that my irritation at Ann’s unco-operative behaviour at work is nothing to do with Ann?” […]

Afraid Of Raising A Difficult Issue? Five Fears And How To Manage Them

“We fear the heat of an honest encounter” The headline above is a quote from an article in the Irish Times by Tony Bates, Director of Headstrong (Feb 1st, 2011). The article talks about the importance of being able to have honest and open conversations about difficulties we might encounter, be it in the workplace, […]

Listening In A Conflict Situation – It’s Not Just About Nodding Your Head….

In the context of conflict resolution, listening as an intervention can be effective at many levels. Listening helps to calm and deescalate emotional upset and stress Letting the person unburden their ‘story’ of what happened can be a very effective way of reducing the emotional arousal; we often use the term ‘vent’ and in effect […]

How Mediators Can Support Parties In Decision-Making

I attended the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland Annual Conference in Dublin last weekend and what a great event it was with such a wide range of interesting speakers, workshops to stimulate one’s thinking. One of the speakers was a very experienced commercial mediator Bill Marsh from the U.K., whose workshop focused on how Mediators can […]

Facing A ‘Difficult’ Conflict Conversation? Be Sure You Give It The Time!

Not investing enough time into a ‘difficult conversation’ can be a key derailer and cause conflict despite even the most positive intentions in communication. This might seem simplistic, but not enough time also means not enough attention. Firstly, this can affect the preparation stage If you have a message that you need to communicate and […]

‘Using A Sledgehammer To Crack A Nut’ – Anti-bullying Policies In The Workplace

How useful are Anti-bullying policies? We are currently getting calls from a number of organisations all wanting to update staff or management training around their ‘Dignity at Work’ policies. While an Anti-Bullying/Harassment Policy or more constructively titled ‘Dignity and Respect Policy’ is a necessary and important process in ensuring that people’s rights are upheld in […]